Roche says COVID-19 tests helped offset 2020 losses in routine health checks

Despite its first overall quarterly sales decline in nearly a decade—dragged down by the global spread of COVID-19, as well as biosimilars encroaching on three of its top-selling cancer drugs—the pandemic has still been a boost for Roche’s diagnostics division.

The demand for coronavirus testing drove a 61% increase in molecular diagnostic sales over the first half of this year—with new products aimed at COVID-19 potentially offsetting the negative impacts from people postponing routine medical testing, the company said. Overall, Roche’s diagnostic sales rose 3% to 6.1 billion Swiss francs, or about $6.6 billion U.S.

“The corona pandemic continues to pose an enormous challenge worldwide,” said CEO Severin Schwan. “I am grateful that, in close collaboration with health authorities, we have been able to make a number of SARS-CoV-2 tests available and start several global Actemra/RoActemra phase III studies in COVID-19 pneumonia.”

“At the same time, Roche’s regular business was significantly impacted by the pandemic in the second quarter. But we now see clear signs of recovery. Furthermore, the uptake of our recently introduced medicines and diagnostic tests continues to be strong,” Schwan added, as the company confirmed its financial outlook for the remainder of the year, with sales expected to grow in the low to middle single-digit range.

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Roche launched its first tests for detecting active COVID-19 infections in late January: Its LightMix modular diagnostic received a CE mark but is for research use only in the U.S. 

In mid-March, the company received the FDA’s first emergency authorization for a commercially developed coronavirus diagnostic. The agency gave the green light to its high-throughput cobas test following a 24-hour review.

Roche later secured authorizations for its antibody test, as well as an IL-6 immune system test to help identify severe COVID-19 cases, in May and June, respectively.

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Outside of COVID-19, Roche also launched an artificial intelligence algorithm designed to spot PD-L1 expression in non-small cell lung cancer cells, with a new CE mark for its uPath digital pathology system—as well as an automated sample preparation system built for its cobas analyzers.